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The Plant Hunters: True Stories of Their Daring Adventures to the Far Corners of the Earth

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  • Posted June 26, 2012

    Step Aside, Indiana Jones!

    Indiana Jones has nothing on these intrepid adventurers as they travel the world in search of the exotic – plant! Anita Silvey draws upon letters, diaries and journals to tell the story of these little known daring-do scientists.

    Passionate about their discoveries, plant hunters “…love being outdoors in the natural world. They enjoyed traveling to places often unseen by others, and they found alien landscapes mysterious and beautiful.” While many went into plant hunting with the hope of becoming rich, most also wanted to make scientific discoveries, inspired by the life of Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778). Considered the father of modern botany, Linnaeus created the system to classify plants. “As he named everything from buffaloes to buttercups, he began to create order out of the natural world, or, as his motto has been translated, ‘God created. Linnaeus organized.”

    Anita opens with the amazing tale of Alexander von Humboldt. In his quest across South America, von Humboldt encountered a jaguar, is “…tormented by insects, threatened by crocodiles, and abandoned by his guides.” At one point, he was poisoned by curare, a nerve poison used by the Tikuna tribe living on the Orinoco River.

    The adventure didn’t end once the hunters found their specimens. Transporting the discoveries back to the museums, arboretums, and royal gardens sometimes proved more difficult. Sometimes it could take weeks or months before the plant was ready to harvest, then it had to be carried by mules then by boats, being carried across land and ocean, exposed to all kinds of weather and environmental changes. Because plant hunters wanted to make sure their specimens survived, they collected sometimes thousands of specimens, and in doing so, created an environmental disaster. Joseph Hooker’s workers cut down ten thousand trees in order to gather four thousand orchids living at the top of them. The irony of destroying so much in order to gain the prize could lend itself to a wonderful discussion about current environmental concerns.

    Anita includes an impressive collection of original drawings, paintings, photographs to illustrate the landscape and characters of her subject. This book is a remarkable blend of history, science and adventure.

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